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One Vision, Three Stanford Students And A Thousand Iterations On "Chocolate-Covered-Broccoli" – Roominate Customer Development

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Girls wanted to be able to construct anything they could imagine, and our testing enabled us to create a toy that equipped them with the perfect tools.

By Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen & Jennifer Kessler (Founders, Maykah)

In January, we set out to design a toy that would inspire young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), by exposing them to the subjects in a fun way. Soon, we had built a toy car that they could wire, build, and decorate. Six months later, our product had evolved dramatically into Roominate – a stackable, attachable, and customizable miniature room.

Roominate is the story of how we learned when to iterate, when to test and how to design for our customer – and stay true to our vision. We thought our toy car idea was brilliant. Girls built circuits to power home made cars that they could decorate to look like animals. Girls would associate fun with engineering, while gaining confidence in their abilities to build something themselves. We called our prototype Peggy the Pig. She had a birth certificate and life story. We thought she was adorable.

Alas, 6-10 year-old girls did not.

We set out on a journey of rapid iteration and customer testing. Every time we learned something new, we adjusted our design. And, every time we adjusted our design, we tested it with customers and learned something new. This cycle of feedback and iteration drove our creative process.

We soon figured out why Peggy the Pig had flopped. She was chocolate-covered-broccoli – something educational (a circuit) covered with something fun (a craft project). Kids caught onto our guise quickly.

So, we started again by endeavoring to understand how young girls played. We learned that girls loved designing private, imaginary worlds in their dollhouses. We realized we could use educational components to make these dollhouses even more interesting – the complete opposite of chocolate-colored-broccoli.

The circuits we had developed for Peggy remained at the center of our design. We first tried coupling them with pre-built furniture and rooms. Through testing and iteration, the pre-built furniture evolved into specialty furniture pieces, and, finally, into completely modular building pieces. The rooms evolved into connectable walls, which ultimately became stackable and attachable. Girls wanted to be able to construct anything they could imagine, and our testing enabled us to create a toy that equipped them with the perfect tools.

Roominate was born! Stackable, attachable, and customizable miniature rooms with working circuits that girls connect themselves.

Girls’ eyes lit up when they completed circuits that made light bulbs illuminate their rooms and excitedly designed kitchens around the motors they connected themselves. Buzzers inspired restaurants, doorbells, and game shows. Puzzle-like building pieces inspired dog houses and loft beds. We gave girls the tools to imagine their own worlds – a 3-D puzzle of modular circuit components and building pieces. We had taken something they loved and expanded the opportunity for imagination with additional components that developed their STEM thinking.

We designed Roominate for 6-10 year old girls. But the truth is, their input was the critical component of our design process. There were times when it felt like we would be iterating on our product forever. But as soon as we landed on Roominate, the smiles on girls’ faces told us we were done.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign that sold more than 1300 units across six continents, the Roominate team is currently raising a seed round to scale up manufacturing and meet growing holiday demand (the waiting list numbers almost 10000. Roominate and its creators have been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, TechCrunch, Wired, Fast Company, CNET, The Huffington Post, and Babble. The Maykah team can be reached at [email protected].

Roominate is the first product from Maykah Inc. – a company started by three Stanford graduate students who wished they saw more females in their upper level math and science classes.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Alice Brooks is a founder of Maykah. She grew up in the Boston area and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Currently in her second year as a Master’s student at Stanford University, Alice is focused on Mechanical Engineering Design. She spent six months working at Nest Labs. In her spare time, she loves making anything from light fixtures to stuffed animals to strawberry shortcake.

About the guest blogger: Bettina Chen is a founder of Maykah. Bettina graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2010 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. In March, she graduated from Stanford with her Master’s. She loves volunteering and working with kids, and is looking forward to getting kids as excited about engineering as she si! Bettina is a ultimate frisbee enthusiast and plays competitively on the Stanford club team. As a young girl, Bettina loved Legos and built hundreds of extravagant creations with her older brother.

About the guest blogger: Jennifer Kessler is a founder of Maykah. She is an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Math, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. After college, she worked in NYC as a management consultant. She loves crossword puzzles, Settlers of Catan and hiking. Growing up, Jen loved solving math riddles with her dad and an early childhood memory is her grandfather teaching her to do long division in her head.